Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 12:53:32 -0600


Subject: The "n" word and M-W Collegiate Dict

At 12:29 PM 10/28/97 -0500, you wrote:

From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, p. 19a

(Explanatory Notes), Order of Senses: "The order of senses within an

entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in

English is entered first."

From the definition of "nigger": "1: a black person -- usu. taken to

be offensive 2: a member of any dark-skinned race -- usu. taken to

be offensive 3: a member of a socially disadvantaged class of

persons it's time for somebody to lead all of American's ~s ... all

the people who feel left out of the political process -- Ron Dellums

_usage_ _Nigger_ in senses 1 and 2 can be found in the works of such

writers of the past as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Charles

Dickens, but it now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and

inflammatory racial slur in English. Its use by and among blacks is

not always intended or taken as offensive, but, except in sense 3, it

is otherwise a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry."



This is indeed what is in this dictionary, and it is clearly incomplete.

For example, the final sentence is far too weak. The expression "not always

intended or taken as offensive" is misleading.

I have often heard blacks use the "n" word as a term of friendship or even

endearment among themselves. That aspect is not adequately dealt with

above. The positive use of (otherwise negative) epithets is common to other

groups as well.

On another score, the M-W does include a mention of people who have

"reduced pigmentation" under "white" (1348) and something about people

under "yellow" (1371). Also, I have heard blacks use the word "white" with

a clearly derogatory meaning. There is no mention of this under "white."

Perhaps this deserves a usage note, too. (:)

What it all boils down to is context: We need to know who is speaking to

whom -- and much more -- to discover what meaning might be intended.


krahna[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] Al Krahn Milwaukee Area Technical College

700 W. State St. Milwaukee WI 53233 414/ w297-6519 fax297-7990